East Van Jam _Natalie Ferrari-morton

We catch up with Natalie Ferrari-Morton of East Van Jam to talk about what it takes professionally and personally to be a food producer.

SB: What was happening in your life when you started East Van Jam?

NFM: I was a primary caregiver and I was bored out of my mind. I was definitely needing more contact and stimulation, so I started teaching canning classes with a friend at neighbourhood houses and community centres. Eventually I was teaching on my own. The main feedback from my classes was if we can make low-sugar jam for ourselves, why can’t we buy it on the shelves. That’s kind of how it all started.

I had no experience the food industry. I never worked as a server or in a restaurant and I can imagine if I had a little bit of experience in the industry I would have had an easier time. I was also really chickenshit and was scared all the time.

SB: You were scared or you are scared?

NFM: I was then and there are hints of it now, but less now than when I was in the startup phase. I was scared that I would make myself vulnerable and be rejected and even though I was making something edible, I was still putting my heart and soul into it. The whole branding experience is an extension of you. I think people who approach it with a more business mindset may not experience that.

SB: Because they are more objective?

NFM: Exactly. They may have had different feelings about the creative process, but I felt really scared to put my neck out and not be received well, or fail. Those were very real fears for me.

SB: I get that with Small Batch. My biggest fear right now is “am I cool enough?”

NFM: I know what you mean. That’s totally a part of it. You want to be accepted and that’s ultimately a major goal for humans in general, whether that is in your peer group or the broader world.

SB: Vulnerability is huge when you are putting out your own creativity.

NFM: In my navigation of the world I’ve seen more often than not that men tend to be raised to have confidence, whereas a lot women in my inner circle took a long time to get there.  Whereas the men in the same peer group have been raised, very intentionally, to not question themselves or doubt themselves. They also don’t have as much attachment to the failing, when I feel like so many of us are desperate not to fail and not be able to recover in the same way. I’m making broad generalizations, but…

SB: This is the conversations we want to have because there is a lot of shame in failing and shame in trying something knowing you might fail. That comes from you, but it comes from the people around you who may not be sure about the decisions you are making.

NFM: I experienced that with some people who are close to me when I was starting up. Some of them were super dubious about what I wanted to start, so I actually stopped talking to them about it.

I started East Van Jam before Christmas in 2013 and it was received well, so I decided to put more balls in it and I was busting to get all the background stuff done so I could launch. I didn’t talk to those people about it during that time because I didn’t want it to squash me and I was feeling squashed, so I had to take my feedback from other sources.

SB: When you launched, how did you navigate the industry?

NFM: I was naive. I really didn’t know anything. I only knew the basics, like if you are selling it at a farmers market you can make it at home, but if you are not selling it at a farmers market you have to make it in a commercial kitchen.

SB: When you started going down that rabbit hole, were you daunted by the path you were taking?

NFM: I was still pretty chicken then. It felt like I had to reinvent the wheel on the company I had started, which is still an ever-evolving process. There is a lot of red tape and a lot of minute annoyances, like the point size of text on the label.

SB: What made you continue to work through it?

NFM: I’m not an educated person, I don’t have post-secondary education, but I’m someone who has learned from life and I feel like I’ve done a pretty okay job. I’ve been able to navigate the corporate world and everything leading up to that point was like if someone else can do it, why can’t I? So get it done.

Essentially that and my personal pride. There were tears, but, you know…

SB: How did you approach small shops, compared to larger shops?

NFM: When I first started I had a very short and narrow list of shops I wanted to approach and some of which I’m not on the shelves anymore. There were high priority in my mind, but they were not the best.

I’m about to sound very conceited and I don’t mean to, but there are very few doors I’ve knocked on and very few calls I’ve had to make. Including Whole Foods. Folks are excited when they want to get in touch with you and it is so great to be excited with them.

SB: When you get a call from Whole Foods or Spud, how did you know you could fill the orders?

NFM: I thought they would be these massive orders, but they weren’t. The process took a long time because you have go through a lot of vetting.

When Whole Foods approached me initially I wasn’t really ready. I was super flattered, but scared about getting noticed, because I could get noticed in a bad way. I told my friend about it, who told her mom who is a hardcore businesswoman in finance. She told me to not  pass up this chance and get on it, but I didn’t do anything about it.

She passed away and at the celebration of life I decided to pursue Whole Foods in her honour. A year later I had my first product on the shelf.

SB: What is the biggest change for you personally that East Van Jam gave you?

NFM: It’s the confidence piece for sure. Everyone in my life sees me as an outgoing and confident person, but deep down I’m not. Knowing that I could do it was a huge confidence boost.

by | Jun 28, 2018

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Excellent work. Well done you. Bravo.

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